An Ethnographic Approach To Marketing: Project Communication Part 1

As mentioned on this blog previously, ethnography is used to observe and analyse people within a society or culture (Coleman and Simpson n.d.). As a multifaceted research practice, ethnography isn’t limited to anthropology and can be used to explore groups of people and cultures in other areas such as business, media and beyond.

A have documented my own personal experiences through a variety of autoethnographic reflections which I have also written about on this blog. Conducting autoethnographic research has allowed me to better understand the entire research methodology and the importance of analysing what people do and why they do it. Using my newfound understanding, I would like to explore the benefits of ethnography to marketing and business communications.

The project will involve conducting secondary research of instances where ethnography was used to drive or support marketing communication strategy. In addition, I will be exploring some of the issues associated with ethnographic research for marketing purposes, such as privacy and consent. The remainder of this project pitch will cover the background as to why I feel this is a beneficial research task to undertake, as well as how I will convey my findings.


Credit: RawPixel

The Evolution of Marketing

The practice of marketing a companies offerings to its consumers has greatly changed with technological advancements and societal shifts. A more level playing field has been created and businesses have to tailor their marketing strategies even further to reach customers (Agrawal 2016). We are also in the age of big data, which isn’t just limited to massive data sets that new technology can obtain and process.

Big data also refers to the unique information that can’t simply be read off a spreadsheet, this includes what consumers do and why they do it in regards to their interaction with a companies offerings (Erevelles 2018). This is where ethnography is introduced to marketing, to analyse consumer behaviour in a way that will show businesses what consumers really like. Linking back to technological advancements and changes in society, social media platforms and smartphones have made ethnography easier for marketers as consumers are used to reporting what they’re doing and why (Burrows 2014).


Credit: RawPixel

Marketing, Privacy and Consent

Another issue that I feel is important to consider in regards to ethnography being used for marketing purposes is privacy and consent. I believe this is timely, as there have been many recent instances where a consensus of disapproval towards companies using consumer information has been displayed. For example, companies such as Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have been under fire for their collection and distribution of user data. The pair of companies were involved in a scandal relating to the 2016 Donald Trump presidential campaign in which 87 million Facebook users had their raw data exposed (Chang 2018).

It is vital that other companies who use consumer information to drive their marketing strategy to undertake correct practices in relation to consent. With certain examples of conducting ethnography this could be simple, such as by providing informed consent to any research participants, which I have written about as a part of another research project I have conducted here. However, obtaining information digitally can be tricky when it comes to privacy, but businesses should still take it into consideration to avoid potential PR crisis’.

Reference list:

Agrawal, A 2016, ‘How The Digital Age Has Changed Marketing Channels Forever’, Forbes, 15 February, viewed 24 September 2018, <>.

Burrows, D 2014, ‘How to use ethnography for in-depth consumer insight’, Marketing Week, 9 May, viewed 24 September 2018, <>.

Chang, A 2018, ‘The Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, explained with a simple diagram’, Vox, 2 May, viewed 24 September, <>.

Coleman, S and Simpson, B n.d. Ethnography, Discover Anthropology, viewed 24 September 2018, <>.

Erevelles, S 2018, ‘Innovation and Competitive Advantage with Big Data’, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, Academic Lecture.

Header Image Source: RawPixel




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